Conference of Presidents Calls for Protection of Iraqi Jewish Archives

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations released a statement calling on the United States government to assure that the Iraqi Jewish Archives currently in Washington, DC, would be protected, and that they would remain accessible to Iraqi Jewish communities around the world.

The statement called on Secretary of State John Kerry to “consult with representative bodies of Iraq’s expatriate Jewish community and officials before any further decision is made,” said Robert G. Sugarman, Chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman/CEO, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The items were taken by the Baath regime in 1970s and 1980s from Jewish individuals and institutions, and were discovered in the basement of the Iraqi Security Ministry building.

Leaders of the Conference and more than 40 signatories have sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry and White House officials detailing their concerns.

The trove of Iraqi Judaica includes many ritual objects, in particular sifrei Torah and rare, old books, documents, and community records. The Conference said these should be returned to synagogues of Iraqi Jews in the United States and elsewhere to be used, their sanctity protected.

There are historical and legal precedents, established by countries like the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Uzbekistan, where they made available sifrei Torah and other Jewish ritual objects for use in synagogues populated by former citizens and their descendants.

Signatories cross the political and religious spectrum of American Jewry; all consider Jewish protection of these vestiges of a rich culture and long history to be a moral responsibility.

The current agreement, calling for these items to be returned to Iraq, raises serious concerns that the signatories urge be reconsidered before any further decisions are made.